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How autism and sensory processing disorder are linked

“Do you think sensory issues are at the root of what makes autistic people different?”  

That’s the powerful question that Maia Szalavitz of TIME Magazine asked world-renowned professor, author, and self-advocate Temple Grandin in a 2013 interview.

Grandin’s reply? “I think the core criterion is the social awkwardness, but the sensory issues are a serious problem …. they make it impossible to operate in the environment where you’re supposed to be social.”

With that statement, Grandin linked sensory issues and socialization, and hinted at the relationship between sensory processing disorder (SPD) and autism as well.

SPD is a condition that affects the way that the brain communicates with the rest of the body. When the brain of an individual with SPD receives sensory information through the nervous system, it has trouble converting those signals into typical reactions.

As a result, the individual’s physical, emotional, and social responses appear unusual. Plus, SPD can manifest differently from one day to the next, further complicating the issue.

A Glimpse of Sensory Processing Disorder

What does this phenomenon look like in everyday life? Well, it may look very familiar to you as a parent. The symptoms of SPD overlap with stereotypically autistic behaviors.

Though SPD isn’t part of the formal diagnostic criteria for autism, sensory issues are prevalent among the ASD population.

Do you recognize your child in these descriptions?  

  • One morning, your son is comfortable with brushing his teeth. However, the next morning he protests that the toothpaste is “too spicy” or that the bristles are “too sharp”.
  • One afternoon, your daughter enjoys the sound of classical music playing on the car speakers at a preset volume. But the next day, she exclaims that the very same volume level is “too loud” and that it hurts her ears.

If these examples hit home, know that your child with autism isn’t trying to manipulate or gaslight you. Children with SPD really do experience sensory input differently from day to day. At times they struggle to process accustomed sights, sounds, tastes, scents, or touches.

As is the case with autism, SPD impacts every area of functioning. It affects everything from socialization to academics.

(Speaking of school, be sure to check out our blog post, A back-to-school checklist for kids with sensory processing disorder and receive your free downloadable checklist.)

SPD and ASD: Significant Overlap

But what’s the connection between SPD and ASDs? Are they one and the same?

As we wrote in our blog post, What we know about autism and sensory processing disorder,

“Think of the two conditions as circles in a Venn diagram; each circle is self-contained, but the overlap between them is significant.

Sensory processing disorder occurs much more frequently in children with autism than in the general population. According to this SPD Foundation website articleover 75% of children with autism also have symptoms of SPD …. However, the majority of individuals with SPD do not have autism.”

ASD and SPD are not the same, but the overlap between them is significant. Both are brain-based differences, neurological conditions that impact a child’s development.

ASD SPD Venn Diagram

Furthermore, SPD is similar to ASD in that it doesn’t indicate a low level of cognitive ability. It simply means that the brain is misinterpreting some sensory signals. Even individuals with high levels of functioning deal with sensory difficulties.

As Chantal Sicile-Kira wrote in her Psychology Today column, What is Sensory Processing Disorder and How Is It Related to Autism?,

“I have yet to meet a person on the autism spectrum who does not have a challenge in [sensory processing]. In interviewing adults and teenagers of different ability levels …. most of them stated sensory processing challenges as the number one difficulty for them, regardless of where they were on the spectrum.”

Helping a child with SPD

Children with autism and sensory processing disorder can grow and excel, and ABA therapy is an effective way to teach appropriate responses. That said, it’s also helpful to pursue occupational therapy for SPD specifically.

It’s also worth noting that, since SPD isn’t listed in the DSM-V, your best bet for getting related therapy covered by insurance could be seeking out autism-based service providers with a focus on sensory integration issues.

If you’re concerned about the possibility of SPD, know that a program of ABA therapy can support your child’s neurological development.

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Steps To Social Success Videos!

Social Success – FirstPath Autism is proud to announce our new Steps to Social Success® video series on YouTube!

This new how-to video series can be utilized as helpful tutorials for helping to teach important specialized situations.

A Modern Learning Aid For Modern Learners

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Designed as a supplimentary teaching tool for our Steps to Social Success® stories, our free-to-view Youtube series will help engage children and set examples beyond description or pictures.

New videos are scheduled to release every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to ensure that every topic where help is needed can be covered.

Need the Steps Story to help as well?

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The premade Steps stories that correspond to each video can be found in the video’s description!  Print these to make a visual task analysis, read along with the video, or keep handy for when a video is not available.

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Of course, these videos and printouts can only go so far in your autism journey.  To learn how to apply behavior therapy, create lesson plans, or even create your own Steps to Social Success stories there is more to be learned.

Want to gain access to dozens of professional ABA therapy video lessons? Do you want to learn how to  Sign up to FirstPath Autism today!

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7 Tips for Back to School Preparation

Back to School – Summer break is coming to an end and a new school year is fast approaching. You might be feeling stressed or anxious for your child’s year ahead, but it’s ok!  Our FirstPath team has come up with 7 back to school tips for making that transition smoother for both you and your child.

Preparation is key.

When you feel prepared, you feel more calm and confident. There are several ways to get yourself and your child ready for that first day. It is helpful to have the following planned and ready to go ahead of time.

1.png Select your child’s clothing the night before.  

Better yet, planning out outfits for the week. It’s a great idea to do this with your child because it offers the opportunity to teach them about weather-appropriate clothing and gives them a sense of control. If your child tends to engage in maladaptive behavior during this activity, then this should be handled carefully. FirstPath provides helpful approaches to manage this behavior.

2.png Plan your child’s breakfast.

This should be something that is healthy but also something your child enjoys. Giving your child a couple options and having them choose will increase the likelihood of them eating it without any fuss. It is important for your child to go to school with a full stomach so the feeling of hunger does not influence any maladaptive behaviors.

If your child brings lunch to school, it is also helpful to have that packed the night before. Your child may assist in that task, which may give them a sense of accomplishment.

3.png Ensure that all materials and homework are packed in your child’s backpack the night before.

To avoid those frantic searches in the morning, it is a good idea to get your child in the habit of putting their backpack by the door, so it can be conveniently picked up on the way out to the car. This can be added to your child’s nighttime routine so it will naturally become part of their daily schedule.

Emotional preparation is just as important.

Your child’s anxiety about starting school may be eased by giving them a better idea for what to expect.

4.png Talk with your child.

Taking the time to ask your child how they are feeling about starting school may provide you with insight that you may have otherwise missed. Your child may be feeling a variety of emotions but may not initiate that conversation on their own.

Perhaps even conversating about it is not the route to go with your child, after all you know your child best. If that’s the case, encourage your child to drawwrite, or relate how they are feeling in their own way, whatever that may be.

It is a great idea to continue devoting time to do this as the school year progresses. Having your child start a journal about their school days can be an excellent way for them to express their feelings as well as being a great way for you to understand what is going on with your child.

5.png Role-play with your child.

You could run through different scenarios with them having you act as the teacher or a peer. It can be fun for both you and your child and will strengthen your child’s social skills. If your child runs into a problem at school, you can go over how to handle similar future situations.

This is also a good time to prepare for any emergency situations that may come up. Your child should know what to do ahead of time. Review situations where your child may need help, so they stay safe and can get the help they need.

6.png Review school and classroom rules. 

Your child will have a better understanding of what will be expected of them. Making an organized, visual representation of this may make it clearer for your child. Visual representations can also be a chance to make things fun and engaging for your child, using fun illustrations or FirstPath’s Steps To Social Success stories.

7.pngDemonstrate how to approach other kids.

Your child may not initiate social interaction on their own, so practicing with them is beneficial. Showing your child how to greet others, introduce themselves, ask questions, and make eye contact are all important for positive social relationships.

Getting into a school routine will relieve a lot of headaches for both you and your child. This may take some time- and that is perfectly okay! Staying consistent and not giving up will make all the difference.

Want to gain access to dozens of professional ABA therapy video lessons that will help your child with socializing or organization? Sign up at FirstPath Autism today.

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Autism and Food-Related Issues, Part 2: Potlucks and Picnics

Just jumping into the series? Be sure to go back and read our first post, Autism and Food-Related Issues, Part 1: Help for Picky Eaters.

For many people, the idea of savoring a potluck picnic represents the best that summer has to offer. From the refreshing fruit dishes to the delicious barbequed meats to the crispy salad medleys, gathering with family and friends and dining al fresco might sound like the perfect way to celebrate the season. Yet, since such events represent a distinct deviation from mealtime norms, these get-togethers can often cause stress and panic for autism families.

In the 2010 HealthDay News article Mealtime a Challenge for Some with Autism, Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer for Autism Speaks, is quoted as saying:

Many autistic children have a strong need for consistent routine or ‘sameness’. They want things exactly the same way and that includes the food they’re eating. To introduce a variety of food or to have changes in food may cause stress and anxiety.

The prospect of a picnic or potluck can trigger feelings of apprehension for you and your child. To help combat these feelings and prevent future reactions, follow these tips to help you handle such events with calm and confidence.

Plan for success by visualizing various possible scenarios

Once the event is on your calendar, channel your inner football coach and create a playbook. Mentally run through the possibilities based on behavior you’ve seen at similar gatherings in times past. Then ask yourself, “If such-and-such happens, how will I/we respond? What’s my/our game plan?”

For example, if you know that your child tends to rush to the dessert table, then you’ll want to decide in advance what you’ll do if you see your child grab a huge handful of cookies. Work with your child’s ABA clinician to find ways to provide positive behavior support within the context of this particular event.

When done properly, advance planning helps to reduce stress by helping you and your family envision the most likely scenarios to occur and deciding how best to prepare or react.

As Charles Duhigg writes in his bestselling book Smarter, Faster, Better:

“Psychologists have a name for this kind of habitual forecasting: ‘creating mental models’ …. [and some of us build more robust models than others. We envision the conversations we’re going to have with more specificity …. As a result, we’re better at choosing where to focus and what to ignore.”

Prioritize your list

Once you’ve considered the various potentialities, heed Duhigg’s words and decide in advance “where to focus and what to ignore”. In other words, prioritize your list and pick just one or two issues that seem important enough to review with your child in advance.

Need some ideas? You might decide to focus on:

  • Making healthy eating choices
  • Avoiding foods that trigger allergic reactions
  • Selecting a variety of different foods from a buffet
  • Measuring out healthy portion sizes
  • Engaging in turn-taking behaviors and/or waiting in line for food to be served
  • Deciding in advance how many specific “treat” items are acceptable (and perhaps preventing a meltdown in the process)
  • Practicing an important social skill at the event, such as greeting other people
  • Practicing emotional regulation skills such as deep breathing
  • Utilizing adaptive equipment such as headphones or a trampoline for help with sensory overload or sensory processing disorder (SPD)

That said, remember to give priority to safety issues as you organize your list. In outdoor summer scenarios, preventing wandering and injury take precedence over other concerns.

In her blog post 5 Steps to a Meaningful Behavioral Support: Step 1-Part 2 Prioritize Behaviors, clinical psychologist and autism sibling Christine Reeve, Ph.D. of Autism Classroom Resources outlines a helpful rubric for evaluating which maladaptive behaviors to address. She writes:

“Dangerous behaviors [such as aggression and self-injury] are addressed first, then disruptive behaviors [such as screaming and crying] and then behaviors that are not that disruptive but can be very distracting or set the person apart [such as whining and self-talk].” 

 Review the possibilities with your child

Once you’ve decided which behaviors to focus on, start working with your child to prepare for the potluck or picnic. Always remember to break down complex skill sets into very small, manageable components.

Select a medium that works best with your child’s learning style and begin familiarizing them with what’s expected at the event. For example, you might role play, create a visual schedule of the event, or put together a series of printable social stories for summer activities.

It’s all about preparation

As Autism Speaks’ Family Services Going Out To Eat Guide notes, “One successful strategy when dealing with an unfamiliar routine is to prepare the individual ahead of time. Preparation can greatly reduce anxiety in unfamiliar environments and helps a person know what to expect.”

Want to gain access to dozens of professional ABA therapy video lessons? Sign up for FirstPath Autism today.

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Printable Social Stories: Summer Activities and Outdoor Safety

Have you seen the viral photo of police officer Tim Purdy helping a young adult with autism who had wandered away from school? The simple shot is worth a thousand words, as Officer Purdy sits down in a parking lot next to the young man. His posture bespeaks kindness, and his patience helped to de-escalate a potentially dangerous situation. Lindsay Naeder, the autism response team director at Autism Speaks, spoke about the incident, saying, “There was a lot of empathy and trying to meet [the young man with autism] where he was at …. A challenge for our community can be communicating and dealing with social interactions.”

This recent story illustrates the important connection between social communication and safety. Since individuals with autism often struggle to make their feelings and needs known, emergency situations can prove particularly fraught. Through social stories, you can help prevent wandering and emergency situations while preparing yourself and your community for any potential conflict and confusion.

Why are social stories useful tools to help illustrate safety? The use of pictures with explanatory text has been found to be useful when explaining common social situations to children with autism. We discuss them in our post Printable social stories and visual schedules for students with autism.

Summer Activities and Outdoor Safety

Are you feeling nervous or stressed out about the summer ahead? Never fear–we’ve compiled a list of free downloadable social stories to help you and your family navigate the next few months. With these materials in hand, you can stress less and enjoy the season:

sunshine-sm.png The Kansas Technical Assistance Network (TASN)’s Autism and Tertiary Behavior Supports Resource Center is a treasure trove of free social stories for summer activities such as bike safety and miniature golf. On the safety side, explore the stay with your family and If-Then safety social stories.

sunshine-sm.png Positively Autism is a great place to find free social stories. This summer, you won’t want to miss the Swimming Pool Safety and Fourth of July social stories. The Ouch Cards can also help your child to communicate the location of an injury or insect bite. Finally, the Waiting While Riding in the Car and Share the Road and Shoe Box Games kits will help make road trips more fun.

sunshine-sm.png The Monarch Center for Autism’s extensive collection of free visual supports includes a daily summer schedule checklist and a topic display board to request summer activities.

Social stories include instruction on summer-fun safety tasks such as putting on sunscreen, drinking water, and wearing a bike helmet. Finally, there’s also a detailed visual schedule and checklist for attending a sports game.

sunshine-sm.png Autism Speaks offers a free customizable social story to prevent wandering, a comprehensive wandering prevention resource guide, and a resource library of Visual Tools with links to recommended online social story creators.

sunshine-sm.png The National Autism Association’s AWAARE Collaboration site contains a wealth of safety materials designed to prevent wandering-related incidents.

sunshine-sm.png Looking for social stories for different scenarios? FirstPath Autismalso offers free compilations of printable social stories for birthday partiesemergency situations, and visiting family during the holidays.

Assistive Communication Tools Promote Independence

The social stories linked above can help you and your family to have a safe, fun, and memorable summer. At the same time, they can empower your child with autism to communicate effectively and develop a greater sense of personal independence.

Too often, people assume that an inability to communicate verbally indicates a lack of intelligence. But that’s simply not true. When individuals with autism have the tools and supports they need to make their voices heard, what they have to say is astonishing.

Gordy Baylinson, a nonspeaking teenager on the autism spectrum, recently composed an insightful letter to a police officer about how to treat individuals with autism. Using his assistive communication device, Baylinson wrote,

My brain, which is much like yours, knows what it wants and how to make that clear. My body, which is much like a drunken, almost six foot toddler, resists.”

Baylinson’s communication device helps him begin to bridge the gap between his mind and body, and this summer, social stories could help your child to do the same.

Did you find this post helpful? If so, please share it with your network and help others be prepared for a safe and fun summer!

Autism & Maladaptive Behaviors: What’s a Parent to Do?

Maladaptive behaviors are attempts to decrease anxiety and gain personal agency and control. The non-adaptive nature of these behaviors also prevents children with autism from participating in family and community activities.

Examples of maladaptive behaviors include tantrum-related behaviors such as hitting, kicking, or screaming.

Unsure as to whether your child is having tantrums or meltdowns? Look to our blog post What to do when your child has a meltdown in public for an overview of the difference between the two. You may also want to check out our free downloadable guide for parents, 10 Tips for Managing a Meltdown.

Meltdown behaviors are just one subset of maladaptive behaviors. Other examples include aggression and sleep disturbances. Whatever the maladaptive behavior looks like in your household, you can put ABA therapy principles to use and help lessen the likelihood of future behaviors.

Identify the function of the maladaptive behavior

The first and most important step toward mitigating maladaptive behavior is discerning its function. Why is your child hitting or biting? What’s his objective?

One of the core principles of ABA therapy says that all behavior is a form of communication. Your child’s maladaptive behavior isn’t random; rather, it’s an attempt to convey a message.

The problem is that the message is getting lost in translation. The unhealthy behaviors distract from the underlying communication and block others from understanding your child.

Using Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence (ABC) data sheets can help you to gain clarity. Once you’ve compiled data, you can examine the patterns of your child’s behavior and better discern what drives it.

For example, you might notice that the maladaptive behavior fits into an attention-seeking pattern, or conclude that it’s related to sensory issues.

Once you have a better sense for your child’s motivations, you can partner with his ABA clinician or behaviorist to develop an effective behavior support plan.

When problematic behavior occurs, respond consistently

Another foundational principle of ABA therapy states that you cannot control another person’s behavior. However, you can influence it by changing your own.

As such, you can discourage your child’s maladaptive behaviors by providing regular reinforcement that points him in a different direction. Over time, your child will learn to choose healthier behaviors in order to get his needs met.

For example, perhaps your child bites others to get attention. You can teach your child healthier ways to communicate and gain people’s attention. But even as you’re working to promote more positive choices, it also behooves you to discourage this aggressive behavior. Thus, you should determine (and clearly communicate!) a tangible consequence for biting, and a tangible reward for not biting.

Since the choice to bite is highly problematic, it could result in the loss of a much-loved activity, such as watching a favorite TV show.

Once you’ve chosen a consequence, you must stick to it. For example, any time your child bites, he loses his TV-watching privileges for one day – no ifs, ands, or buts. But every day that he doesn’t bite, he receives an additional half-hour of TV time.

Gradually, your child will realize that biting reliably deprives him of something that’s important to his happiness. As a result, you’ll likely have fewer instances of biting!

That said, do be prepared to face an extinction burst: an initial period of fierce resistance in which maladaptive behaviors get worse before they get better. But after the extinction burst ends, you should see a decrease in the problematic behavior.

By the same token, it’s essential to …

Teach your child healthier ways to communicate

It’s not enough to simply discourage negative behaviors. Instead, parents must actively teach and promote positive, healthy behaviors.

In a recent Stanford study, Maladaptive Behavior in Autism Spectrum Disorder: The Role of Emotion Experience and Emotional Regulation (PDF), the authors wrote, “The present study suggests that less use of adaptive emotion regulation strategies is crucial for increased negative emotions, and in turn, is associated with increased maladaptive behavior in ASD.”

In other words, if your child doesn’t employ emotional regulationstrategies, his negative emotions will then increase … and these negative emotions correlate with a higher instance of maladaptive behaviors.

One reason why ABA therapy is so crucial for children with autism is that it provides a framework for learning emotional regulation skills such as emotions labeling.

If you want to decrease maladaptive behaviors, coach your child in emotional self-management. Teach him to express his needs, wants, and emotional states, and note how the problematic behaviors decrease.

Be aware that frustrations feed maladaptive behaviors

The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorders lists deficits in social communication as a defining characteristic of autism. Can you imagine how frustrating it must be to struggle to interact with other people every day? If so, then you’ll understand one reason why many children with autism engage in maladaptive behaviors.

When children with autism receive early intervention in the form of ABA therapy – a proven, systematic therapeutic program – they are empowered to learn functional communication and improve their future outcomes as well.

While maladaptive behaviors can be complicated and frustrating, following these recommendations can help you and your child mitigate dysfunctional emotional habits and develop positive emotional regulation skills for improved communication and understanding.

Want to access ABA video lessons and start learning from home? Then be sure to sign up for your free trial of FirstPath Autism today!

Autism and Food-Related Issues, Part 1: Help for Picky Eaters

Some families may take peaceful, stress-free meals together for granted, but we’re guessing that yours isn’t one of them. If your child has autism, then it’s likely you’ve dealt with drama surrounding food and mealtimes.

We understand how challenging it can be to accommodate your child’s food preferences while still providing a balanced, nutritious diet. To help your favorite picky eater expand his or her horizons, we suggest the following steps:

First, investigate possible medical issues.

As an autism parent, you may have noticed a disproportionate number of your child’s peers on the spectrum struggling with food-related issues. Studies prove that it’s not just your imagination: children with autism really are more likely to have food allergies and intolerances.

In her Psychology Today article Food, Inflammation, and Autism: Is There A Link?, Krysteena Stephens, M.A., IMFT cited a 2006 study based on the 2003 to 2004 National Survey of Children’s Health. The study demonstrated that “ … Allergies, particularly food allergies, [are] more prevalent in children with ASD than those without.”

Since a significant percentage of individuals with autism have food intolerances and allergies, they can feel physically ill when they eat certain foods. Yet since autism also involves communication difficulties, these individuals may not give voice to their felt experiences.

As such, completing medical check-ups and relevant tests is important. If your child is a very picky eater, make an appointment to get him or her tested for gastrointestinal issues or common allergies.

Recognize the sensory components of eating and work to minimize discomfort.

Individuals with autism often experience the sensory aspects of eating more strongly than others. They might feel uncomfortable with the flavor or texture of a given food, but they might also struggle with sensory inputs surrounding the dining ritual itself.

For example, some people with autism report that they can’t stand the sound of metal utensils clicking against dishware or people’s teeth. In such cases, substituting different silverware could make a big difference.

Know that it’s also possible that your child might be a supertaster. Supertasters are people who are extremely sensitive to specific tastes, and they represent as much as 25% of the overall population.

Supertasters typically shun cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale, as well as mushrooms and soy products. These foods taste more bitter to supertasters than they do to the rest of us.

Encourage initial tasting, not eating.

In The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, our favorite stuffed bear is about to accept a delicious pot of honey, but his friend Rabbit snatches it away. Pooh pleads, “But Rabbit, I wasn’t going to eat it. I was just gonna taste it.”

When coping with a picky eater, scenes such as this remind us to separate tasting from eating. Why? Because it’s a reminder that eating and tasting are different. When you’re first working on introducing a more varied diet, don’t try for eating. Try for tasting instead.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll find that, like Pooh, your child can transition from tasting to eating in the blink of an eye!

If tasting isn’t happening, have your child try sniffing a new food, touching it, or helping you to stir or serve it. This way, you’ll familiarize your child with the new food and make it more of a known entity.

You wouldn’t expect your child to tie his shoes on the first try, so let go of the expectation that he’ll try new foods the first time he sees them, too.

Embrace the idea of going slow and making small wins.

This is where your Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) experience comes into play. By now, you understand that teaching your child a new skill involves breaking down the steps involved and practicing each component over and over again.

It takes patience and tenacity to persist in daily reinforcement of new skills. As autism mom Shirley Nutt wisely emphasizes, “Learning ABA is not the tricky part … ABA reinforcement on a consistent basis is the tricky part.”

Why is it so hard? Because a strategy of small wins can feel counter intuitive. When you realize that your child’s eating habits need to shift, you probably want to make major changes now! After all, what if your child is missing out on crucial nutrients? What if his unbalanced eating habits are stunting his growth?

We understand how challenging it can be to take a gentle, incremental approach to a pressing problem … but we’ve also seen how effective the strategy of “small wins” can be.

Take the long view

One of the most helpful decisions you can make when it comes to shifting your child’s eating habits is to take the long view. Decide that his habits don’t have to change all at once. Instead, begin laying the groundwork for them to change in the future.

In her bestselling book The Four Day Win, Harvard-trained sociologist Dr. Martha Beck advocates taking “turtle steps”. When it comes to big changes, she says, smaller is better:

I’m always trying to level Everest with a hand trowel. A turtle step is a single trowelful of earth, an action that takes me toward my goal but is so easy I know for sure I can do it …. Tiny steps work. The tortoise usually does beat the hare.”

So if your child subsists entirely on French fries, don’t expect him to eat a full portion of vegetables tonight at dinner. Going from no vegetables to a serving of vegetables may be too big of a leap. Instead, choose a step you feel confident is well within your child’s current capability. You might go from zero interaction with vegetables to tasting or smelling a vegetable, or simply sitting at a table where vegetables are being served. Once you’ve done that for a few days, you can progress to a new turtle step. Before you know it, you’ll be seeing progress.

Since food aversions affect approximately two-thirds of children on the spectrum, we’ve started a new series to help parents of children with autism. We hope you found this post helpful in coping with and picky eating behaviors. If so, look for our future posts and be sure to share this one with friends and family in your social network. And if you have suggestions for future topics, let us know in the comments.

Top 10 Reasons to Celebrate Autism Moms on Mother’s Day

Did you know that, according to The Autism Society of America’s Facts and Statistics page, autism prevalence increased by 6-15 percent each year from 2002 to 2010? It’s true.

When you hear statistics like that, chances are your mind goes directly to the thousands of children diagnosed with autism during that decade.

But what about the dads and moms who made the shift to “autism parents” at the same time? What about the ways in which your lives changed as a result of an autism diagnosis?

Too often, society doesn’t acknowledge all that autism parents do to champion their children. So today, in honor of Mother’s Day, we’re taking the time to honor our autism moms, dads, and guardians who have made all the difference in our lives.

We give thanks for each of you, and are grateful for the love you show every day of every year. For your selflessness, patience, and kindness, here are 10 reasons we celebrate autism moms today:

1.png You know what it means to love your children for exactly who they are, rather than who the world assumes they ought to be.

2.png You work hard to secure vital professional services for your sons and daughters. Plus, you deal with everything from meltdowns to Minecraft obsessions on a daily basis. You may make it look easy, but it takes a lot of effort to do what you do!

3.png You deal with a great deal of extra paperwork and practical tasks every single day. From bringing your children to ABA therapy sessions to completing the necessary Individualized Educational Program (IEP) forms, you autism moms handle it all.

4.png  You help to educate friends and family members about what life with autism looks like. In formal and informal ways, you teach others how to interact with someone who has autism.

5.png  You encourage your children to dream big … and then you work hard to help bring those dreams to life. Some of you literally create jobs for your children, thereby allowing your sons and daughters to contribute to your communities, earn income, and gain independence, too.

One such amazing example is Deb Fremmerlind, the mother of Brad Fremmerlind. Brad is a nonverbal young man severely affected by autism with a thriving furniture assembly business. In the 2014 Autism After 16 feature article Made By Brad: Thinking Outside The Box, writer and autism sibling Caroline McGraw interviewed Deb Fremmerlind about how she prepared her son to work. Deb recalled, “We’d buy Lego projects and send them to [his] day program to give him something productive to do …. [W]e wanted to figure out how to use his skills in building furniture. In the fall of 2013, we set a goal with Brad’s day program that Brad would build furniture for people.” And the rest, as they say, is history. What began as one mom’s decision to help her child learn and grow turned into a booming business and worldwide press coverage.

6.png  You pursue you own passions and empower your children to live into their potential as well.

For example, autism mom Elaine Hall used her talents and connections as a Hollywood acting coach to found The Miracle Project, an inclusive theater program that helps individuals with autism to grow their confidence and communication skills.

7.pngYou are the driving force behind many nonprofit and community-based organizations that serve the autism community. Grassroots groups such as Families for Early Autism Treatment (FEAT) are entirely parent-driven, providing support groups and resources to millions across the nation.

8.png  You are powerful advocates, constantly changing the face of autism services and awareness across the country.

One such mom, Lorri Unumb, currently serves as Vice President of State Government Affairs at Autism Speaks. She’s been at the forefront of autism insurance reform ever since the bill she authored, Ryan’s Law, was passed in May 2007. Ryan’s Law requires insurance companies to provide coverage for autism treatments such as ABA therapy, and it set an important precedent for the national autism insurance coverage movement.

9.png  You challenge your kids to grow and develop. As self-advocate, professor, author, and speaker Temple Grandin aptly noted“I think sometimes parents and teachers fail to stretch kids. My mother had a very good sense of how to stretch me just slightly outside my comfort zone.”

10.png You do the most powerful thing you can do for autism awareness: you simply love your children.

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This Mother’s Day, we say thank YOU to each and every autism mom in our community. We commend your dedication and compassion, and we hope you each get TLC today! Send flowers, offer to babysit, or make a donation in honor of autism moms.

Express gratitude for great autism moms everywhere by sharing this post with your social networks. (You get extra credit for tagging the rock star moms you know.) You’ll be raising awareness and saying thank you at the same time.

Do You Know the ABCs of ABA?

As you know, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is the research-proven, evidence-based process of empowering individuals with autism to change specific behaviors. Such behavioral modification allows children on the spectrum to learn appropriate social and communication skills, and it promotes an increased sense of self-command as well.

The core principle of ABA is that an individual’s behavior is …

  • Lawful (Guided by principles)
  • Observable (We can see it)
  • Measurable (We can count it)

When you take data on a regular basis, you can start to detect consistent patterns over time … and when you recognize those patterns and uncover the motivations behind them, change becomes much easier.

If you’re dealing with maladaptive behaviors such as self-injury and aggression, data sheets help track and therefore understand the forces driving your child’s behavior.

A is for Antecedent

A is for Antecedent

The term “antecedent” refers to what came before the behavior in question. What was happening before your child started engaging in meltdown behaviors?

Put on your detective hat and describe the prior scene as best you can. Take note of sensory details, transitions, interactions … anything that might be significant from your child’s point of view.

Be as specific and concrete as possible. “We walked into a store” is good, but “We walked into a store where there were flashing lights and buzzing alarms sounding” is better.

B is for Behavior

B is for Behavior

“Behavior” refers to what your child did that is problematic. Describe the action in detail. Did your child throw himself on the floor, or cover his ears and scream? What behavior came first, and what came last? At this stage, don’t include your interpretation of the behaviors; simply describe what you saw with your five senses.

C is for Consequence

C is for Consequence

“Consequence” refers to what happened after the maladaptive behavior. After your child had the meltdown, what happened next? Did you buy him the toy that he wanted, or did you leave the store together? Again, simply describe what happened in measurable terms, without judgment.

Once you’ve completed your data sheet, file it in a safe place. Each time your child engages in the behavior of concern, fill out another sheet. After a few days or a week, gather the data sheets together and start looking for trends.

For example, does your child frequently meltdown around lunchtime, or after he’s had a difficult night’s sleep? Does he often get your undivided attention when he screams? Once you’ve spotted a trend, you can work on making changes that reinforce healthy, positive behavior instead.

ABC (Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence) data is a helpful tool for collecting information when conducting direct observations. Which brings us to our final letter:

D is for Data

D is for Data

(aka “How to observe and measure behavior”)

When it comes to changing maladaptive behaviors, data sheets are a key piece of the puzzle. As such, your ABA therapist may ask you to take data on your child’s behavior at home. Data collection will help the clinician to assess patterns, tailor future lessons, and evaluate progress over time. Likewise, your child’s IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) may specify data collection during school hours.

Even if you don’t have access to an in-person clinician, you can still take data and learn from your reporting. FirstPath Autism offers lesson-specific data sheets, so that you can track your child’s progress as you work through our video library.

As we wrote in our blog post Autism Resource: What is ABA Therapy?:

“Data sheets give you spaces to write down what was happening before the given behavior occurred, how you responded to the behavior, and what happened afterward. And once you’ve collected a series of sheets, trends begin to emerge.”

Get access to ABA therapy 24/7

Want to help your child grow and develop through ABA therapy sessions … but feeling stuck because you don’t have access to an in-person clinician? Never fear; you can access our full library of video lessons and use them to learn at home.

How to Interact with Someone Who Has Autism: Basic Dos & Don’ts

The Cheat Sheet You Wished Others Had

Oftentimes friends or extended family members feel unsure of how to interact and don’t want to do or say anything offensive by accident. In fact, plenty of people feel uncertain about the “right” way to be around someone with an intellectual or developmental disability. Autism prevalence has reached record highs – 1 in 45 children in America today receive a diagnosis – but autism awareness is a relatively new cultural phenomenon. That’s why we’ve put together this list of basic do’s and don’ts for interacting with individuals with autism.

Parents, consider this the cheat sheet you’ve always wished you had to share with the world.

Always show respect

First, speak to any person you meet – child or adult – with respect. Use common courtesy; never talk down to people or discuss them as though they’re not present when they are right there.

It’s easy to make incorrect assumptions about an individual’s mental capacity, so let your default setting be one of positive regard. Always assume that the other person can understand everything that you’re saying, and speak accordingly.

After all, just because a person’s mannerisms are different than yours doesn’t meant that they have limited cognitive or relational ability. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities have unique sets of strengths and weaknesses, just like the rest of us.

Use person-first language

Person-first language means that you refer to the individual first, and the condition last. So instead of saying, “My autistic friend”, you’d say, “My friend who has autism” or, “My friend with autism.” Of course, it goes without saying that you should avoid outdated and offensive terms such as “retarded”.

Recognize the common characteristics of autism

If you don’t know much about autism, it’s understandable that you might feel uncertain when interacting with people on the spectrum. As such, it’s helpful to learn the basics about autism’s diagnostic criteria.

As Autism Speaks’ What Is Autism page notes, autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that results in:

  • Social-interaction difficulties
  • Communication challenges
  • A tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors

That said, there’s a tremendous degree of diversity within the autism community. Individuals with Aspergers Syndrome have milder challenges in these three core areas and thus typically have a higher level of independence, while individuals with more severe autism need additional supports.

Individuals with autism often find it difficult to make eye contact, communicate emotions, and interact socially. However, with guidance they can learn these skills and step into their social potential.

Learn about behaviors and don’t take them personally

It’s normal to feel confused or taken aback by unusual behaviors such as intermittent eye contact or hand-flapping. But familiarizing yourself with behavioral characteristics of autism will help you to take these actions in stride.

As blogger and avid autism awareness advocate Caroline McGraw wrote in her A Wish Come Clear blog post, It’s Taboo, So Let’s Talk About It: Interacting with People with Special Needs:

 “If someone doesn’t seem to understand you when you speak, don’t take it personally or feel like you’ve failed; the fact that you’re trying to communicate respectfully speaks volumes. Ideally, engage with the person along with someone who knows them well; having a ‘translator’ for another person’s words and actions can be invaluable.

Be humble, open, and receptive

There’s a saying in the autism community: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” This means that there is no one so-called “typical” person with autism; instead, there’s a great diversity of ability, temperament, and character.

For example, while you may have a niece on the spectrum, spending time with her may not prepare you to befriend your co-worker with Aspergers. Approach your interactions from a place of humility. Be willing to learn about each individual person: what they like and dislike, what helps and hurts them, what they need to function best.

Don’t forget about parents of children with autism

One of the best gifts that you can give the parents of a child with autism is to be kind to their child. That said, parents need your care and compassion as well. Go the extra mile to reach out to them. Be a good friend: Invite them to go places, listen well, and include them in your community.

As Alexis Villaries notes in her Parent Herald article, 7 Things Parents With An Autistic Child Wish You Knew:

“Parents … need love and acceptance just like their kids … They have worked so hard to fit in the typical world and including them [in] your plans will make them feel accepted.”

Refrain from giving advice on autism

Unless you’re a trained professional or you’ve specifically been asked for your input, resist the temptation to give advice on autism. Sure, you can share helpful resources with your friends and family, but use restraint and good judgment. (No one wants to be inundated by email forwards every day, however well intentioned they may be.)

Plus, many autism parents are already avid researchers themselves–love drives them to learn about the latest scientific developments, treatments, and protocols.

If you’re not sure what constitutes a trustworthy source or reputable research, The Association for Science in Autism Treatment is a good place to start.

If you’re looking for a research-proven, evidence-based treatment for autism, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapy is in a class by itself. It is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Surgeon General, and most major psychological and psychiatric associations as well.

Looking for an additional, hands-on resource that can help you, your child, and your community become better educated about children with autism? Discover the importance of ABA Therapy, and gain access to a full video library of professional ABA therapy.